Back to Basics: prioritizing teaching and its foundations over technology

With students eager to learn how to use and apply technology, and with the aim of providing them with the practice they need, we run the risk of overshadowing the fundamentals of education and forgetting that the basis of knowledge must be understood and mastered first in order to make the most out of technology.

Read More

Virtual Reality in Education, Learning + Fun

To facilitate student learning in biology classes, two professors from Tec de Monterrey designed and developed a virtual reality app that will make it easier for students to understand cell biology.

Read More

Instant learning

Today, higher education is facing the challenge of a globalized environment and a growing need to innovate in teaching-learning processes in order to produce the professionals demanded by the changing world of work. In the future, a new way of producing significant experiences for students will be through instant learning, also known as “ultrafast cognition”.

Image credit: Hashim Al-Hashim / Wikimedia Commons

Read More

Migrant women in transit through Guadalajara, Mexico. The case of the ‘El Refugio’ shelter

By Eduardo González Velázquez

Teaching practice should take place in a multiplicity of spaces that surpass by far the limits of a classroom. Therefore, I teach my students the theory of the migration phenomenon dynamics at school, but also include field work in which we visit the shelters and soup kitchens where migrants receive aid on their way through Guadalajara. In this way, we have managed to achieve the perfect combination of theory and practice that offers a more far-reaching knowledge that favors the students’ comprehensive education.

The current impact of the topic of migration on education is extensive, not just because of the Mexicans who are forced to emigrate since they don’t have access to education, but also because in the current context of migrants returning to Mexico, we urgently need to create appropriate mechanisms to meet their education needs. Therefore, teaching about the topic of migration is absolutely necessary, which is how this article on women migrants passing through Guadalajara emerged. Women who nearly always travel alone, who leave their communities without anyone to guide them across the desert, motivated mainly by their desire to build an independent life project, to undergo a process of empowerment.

For many women, finding the doors of a shelter can mean the difference between life and death.

In their field trips, my students witnessed first-hand the feminization of migration, as well as the violence suffered by women in their communities of origin and across the migrant routes. They also observed the women’s strategy of staying in Guadalajara for a few days before continuing on their northward trek. The violence experienced along the migrant routes is an extension of the difficult circumstances in their hometowns. Assault, rape, abuse and systematic harassment by the authorities, the police and members of the armed forces; in fact, the violence doesn’t stop even when the migration adventure comes to an end. On the contrary, when they reach their destination, they still find themselves in a violent environment.

Photo by  Peter Haden

Photo by Peter Haden

In the midst of the vicious territoriality of the migrant routes built by the exiles of war and poverty, the network of shelters and soup kitchens emerge to humanize the constant flight of human beings. For many women, finding the doors of a shelter can mean the difference between life and death, and between coming to the end of the road or continuing to dream of reaching the northern border. These places where migrants are given assistance teach my students significantly more about migration.

Of the population that the El Refugio shelter has received since 2013, 5% are women. Of the 133 women on the register, 40 are Mexican, 58 come from Honduras, 13 from El Salvador, 21 from Guatemala and one from Nicaragua. Seventeen of the women, including 4 Mexicans, 11 Hondurans, 1 Guatemalan and 1 Salvadorian, were travelling with their children. Only 12 were accompanied by a man. Fourteen were returning to their communities. The average length of stay at El Refugio is two days. The oldest woman was 57 years old and the youngest 21. Of the children, the youngest was a four-day-old baby boy.

Advancements in the study and teaching of migration, in the classroom and through fieldwork, have enabled teachers and students to gain greater insight into the migrant phenomenon.

Female migration is reshaping overall relationships in the family, work, gender and power, as well as consolidating female autonomy. Central-American and Mexican women who experience “obligatory migration” owing to indescribable violence, become “vulnerable exiles” as a result of an excruciating reality awash with extreme violence that curbs the exercise of their citizenship, trapping them in a practice of “pending citizenship”.

Female migration is reshaping overall relationships in the family, work, gender and power, as well as consolidating female autonomy.

Of course, advancements in the study and teaching of migration, in the classroom and through fieldwork, have enabled teachers and students to gain greater insight into the migrant phenomenon, and, in this way, obtain better theoretical-empirical tools to propose holistic solutions to the extensive issues generated in migratory contexts.

About the author

PhD Eduardo González Velázquez is a Research Professor at the National School of Social Sciences and Government of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Guadalajara.

Interview report: Leonardo Garnier | Former Education Minister of Costa Rica

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation


Leonardo Garnier Rímolo, Former Education Minister of Costa Rica, has several publications in journals and books on economic and social topics related to development. He promotes the theory of subversive education, defined as helping students become who they want to be.

Observatory: How can we develop skills in students based on emotional intelligence?

Leonardo Garnier: In many countries, education is based on subjects, which is one way of organization, with its advantages and disadvantages. One of the most interesting experiments in the world right now is being conducted in Finland. They are scrapping subjects and working only on projects, something that the Jesuits are also doing in Spain. However, an exceptionally mature educational system and an extremely highly-trained faculty are required to develop skills in our students on the basis of emotional intelligence.

For example, teachers who work only with projects, without subjects, they need to have a command of the subjects even though they are not being taught as such. They must have the highest pedagogical capacity, since it is so much easier to teach in the traditional way. I think you have to be very careful and consider educational reforms as part of a gradual process.

One of the most interesting experiments in the world right now is being conducted in Finland. They are scrapping subjects and working only on projects.

Copying a Finnish reform in Latin America wouldn´t be recommendable if you don’t have the organization or culture; I would opt for reforms that do have this more ambitious vision, but that take into account which stages need´s completed so an organization can gradually change and, above all, so that the culture can change.

Another way of responding would be to work with projects within the subjects. In Costa Rica, an interesting strategy was to mix soft subjects (music, art) with hard subjects (mathematics or science), and, all of a sudden, students are working on a joint project for both subjects. So, the teachers coordinate with each other, but keep their own subject. Why not scrap subjects? Because I don’t think we’re ready to scrap them, just yet, even though in theory it might seem the right thing to do.

Copying a Finnish reform in Latin America wouldn´t be recommendable if you don’t have the organization or culture. 

Observatory: Based on your experience in education in your country Costa Rica, and in other Latin American countries, what is the main obstacle to developing or implementing innovation?

Leonardo Garnier: There are two main obstacles that are tied in with each other. In the education area, a permanent battle has been between the conservatives and the liberals. The conservatives have understood education very much in the style of the inquisition: preparing obedient, well-behaved children whom follow instructions, they have to memorize all information. In Latin America, many people have tried to break up this paradigm. This conservative resistance is deeply set in not only in the education system, but also in parents who usually think: "I’ll send my child to school so they can teach him to be obedient ". It’s such an old-fashioned mentality: you should fulfill your role as a parent and the school should make the child creative, free, audacious, but not obedient, that’s another matter entirely.

Leonardo Garnier at  CIIE 2015 .

Leonardo Garnier at CIIE 2015.

In Latin America, we have two key issues: if the teaching profession is not well respected or well paid, we can’t attract the best people to this profession. That’s crazy.

The second challenge is that in order to achieve an education with freedom, well-trained teachers are required. In Latin America, we have two key issues: if the teaching profession is not well respected or well paid, we can’t attract the best people to this profession. That’s crazy. If you look at countries like Korea or Finland, among other countries that have been successful in education, the teachers are the most highly respected and valued profession in their societies. But it’s not enough just to recognize teachers or pay them well; the problem we have is on teacher training, including the institutions that produce teachers.

Observatory: In your conference, you mentioned that we have to learn to follow rules, but also change and challenge them. In your opinion, what is holding us back from this subversive education?

Leonardo Garnier: I tend to be rather liberal, open, flexible, but I don’t know what it means to be a high school teacher and stand up in front of forty teenagers. That can’t be easy. An example would be one of the reforms we implemented: in Costa Rica, if students got a bad conduct or behavior report, they failed their academic courses. So, there were many students who were failing academically, not because they hadn’t passed their classes, but because the teacher had given them a poor conduct report. So, the conduct report had replaced the ruler and chalkboard eraser that were used to keep us in check when we were at school.

Our responsibility is to educate, but they say: "No, students have to learn to obey rules.” If blue pants are part of the uniform, they have to come to school wearing blue plants. If they don’t like it, there’s a process for changing the uniform and they can participate, maybe successfully and the uniform is changed, maybe not and they will just have to put up with the uniform. However, I think it is a very important lesson that’s not black and white; there are also grey areas.

Teachers are afraid of the students.

Observatory: How do you think teachers see themselves in front of the students in the classroom?

Leonardo Garnier: Teachers are afraid of the students. I can understand it in some way, but I think we have to stop being afraid. Education is much richer when we remove fear from the equation.

Observatory: What should be the first change made to revolutionize education?

Leonardo Garnier: Teachers need to undergo a transformation. Here we are, thinking that when we train teachers at university, with critical thinking and the theories of Freire, Piaget, Vygotsky and others, they will go out to teach like that. But they leave college, get hired in educational institutions, and on the first day of classes they turn into their old high school teacher.

The new generations of teachers aren’t teaching as they were trained to do at university, but in the same way that they were taught at school 20 years beforehand. Shining away from this is extremely dificult, but that’s the challenge. There are many teachers who do manage it. Something that helped us to understand was that we weren’t inventing anything new, but there were already many teachers doing this in their classrooms.

Observatory: What recommendation would you give to our teachers?

Leonardo Garnier: That’s a tough one. To start with, I really like the way in which Tec de Monterrey is evolving, changing direction towards an education based more on projects and reviving the topic of citizenship, leadership, I think it’s fantastic. Moreover, the goal of increasing the percentage of students who come from socio-economic sectors that could not normally pay for a university like Tec de Monterrey, I think that’s being socially responsible.

The students’ experience will transform the institution, because they won’t just learn from the teachers, but also from their classmates. We can build a rose-colored bubble where everyone comes from well-o- families and the like, but we’ll gain a completely di-erent picture of the world if the kids all come from di-erent backgrounds. I think it’s a fine educational proposal. My congratulations to Tec de Monterrey because I think it’s moving in a direction I like and which is part of its objectives, to place the student at the core of the process.

Observatory: In your opinion, why is it important to hold events like the International Congress of Educational Innovation?

Leonardo Garnier: There are two reasons: first, education is an indispensable tool to turn each student into the person he or she wants to be. It is the most crucial tool for change. And second, activities like this congress are important because in general, our educational systems tend to be very conservative, resistant to changes and old-style ways of understanding learning, which, instead of driving education, holds it back.  

2nd International Congress on Educational Innovation (2015). Retrieved from 2nd International Congress on Educational Innovation (2015). Retrieved from masters/leonardogarnier/

Interview report: Kristine Clerkin | Executive Director, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation  


The College for America, is an accredited nonprofit college and is dedicated to make achievable the possibility for working adults of getting a college degree through its unique competency-based education model. Kristine Clerkin, leads a team in charge of building College for America and is focused on disruptive innovation, technology, and new knowledge about learning to help more people achieve their goals through higher education (cbe network, 2016).  

Observatory: What conditions or drivers have you seen are happening in education worldwide, that are driving or pushing forward competency-based education?

Kristine C.: I think a lot of this is being driven by work, by careers, by the need for all of us to learn and to be lifelong learners. And I think that it’s no longer enough to graduate from college with a degree and some grades. I think employers all over the world want to know that graduates have real skills, and they want evidence of that. I mean, grades mean very little, really. They signify a progression of time that someone has accumulated credits, but they don’t mean that you can do basic.

I think that it’s no longer enough to graduate from college with a degree and some grades. I think employers all over the world want to know that graduates have real skills, and they want evidence of that.

In the US in particular, I think the cost of higher education. And I think this is happening in other places around the world, as well. The costs are going up. There’s less and less public funding from the governments. Students are taking out loans. They have debt. I don’t know if that’s a problem here in Mexico. They have debts. They can’t even pay the debt with a good job so they need to make sure that they have skills. That they know what those skills are that they can show. And we think competency-based learning really helps with all that. And then I would say third thing is the need (in the US but also around the world) older adults, non-traditional students who were not able to go on for higher education for college. Their work life is changing. And they have special needs when it comes to education. They need much more flexible kinds of education. Their needs are different. They have families. They can’t come to a campus, and spend four and a half years.

So, I think that the non-traditional student has driven much of online learning in general and I think that competency-based education for certain types of students is a really great format because they can move quickly, they need to have a flexible format. So the flexibility of format is very important, and I think just in general another driver is technology. I mean, the ability to create personalized learning for students.

This industrial model of sitting in large lectures, it still funds most of our universities - the lecture. But really, we have the technology and the capability now to personalize learning to what students already know, what they already can do, to help them move more quickly. We can do so much, and I think that we haven’t done it yet, as some of these speakers were talking about it today, we are starting to realize the impact of all of that.

Observatory: Why hasn’t it occurred the impact of competency-based education yet?

Kristine C.: I think it’s very early still. And the technologies are still developing. I mean, I think the main reason is that higher education is a very entrenched institution. It’s very conservative, very difficult to move. You have entrenched stakeholders like faculty, administrators, boards of trustees, and even students and alumni sometimes don’t see it. They want things to stay the same sometimes.

Sometimes the public funding, the regulatory aspects around in the United States, for example, with the Department of Education, Congress, the states all have regulations and views about how higher education should be done. So sometimes it’s really hard to innovate around those. So you have entrenched stakeholders. You have regulations. You have the economics are still not really favoring education. I mean, students can still get a lot of money for loans, and many students, I mean, the traditional students really still value that leafy campus. We call it the coming-of-age experience. It’s nature. Because we have a beautiful campus too and it’s for 18 to 23-year-olds who are learning how to manage their time, manage their money. There’s a real benefit to that. But that’s not most of our students. And I think that too often the way we still think, as in the public perception of education is still too much about that campus. The campus experience.

Observatory: Is there a difference in the online college versus traditional school?

Kristine C.: I think our president Paul LeBlanc of the Southern New Hampshire University , has said this, in many ways online learning of all types is better than face-to-face for many people because you have so much more, you understand more about the student. You have data. We live in our program in a sea of data. We’re swimming in it. We have so much data, and we use it, we act on it. But right there, what do you pay attention to is the most important part.

Observatory: Do you have a special department that makes all that analytics?

Kristine C.: We do and so within our larger online unit, we have 20 some people who collect analytic data and run reports every day. So when you come in the morning, you know exactly what you have to work on that day, which students are doing well and where they’re not doing well.

Kristine Clerkin

Kristine Clerkin

Observatory: How does your institution use the richness of this data?

Kristine C.: A lot of it was originally driven by marketing and enrollment management. But I think that we’re seeing a shift, or least an expansion of data analytics to learning analytics, to understand what the student demographic characteristics are? How students are learning? Where are they struggling? I think that’s the opportunity. I think not many institutions are doing that well. At College of America, for our program, we built our whole platform, our learning platform on a Salesforce.

Observatory: What are some of the differentiators of your program?

Kristine C.: In our program at the College of America, we focus a lot on our feedback and fast feedback. We provide feedback usually within about 30 hours, so student will submit a project. We don’t have exams, exams are not part of our model, and it’s all project base learning. Student will upload a project, it’s usually audio, video, presentation, essay, writing a pieces of some kind, worksheets, and then they’re scored by faculty reviewers against a rubric. They get detailed feedback, it’s not just a grade, and it’s not A, B, C. Here are the things you did well, here are the things that you need to improve or here are the learning resources that you can go back to.

The feedback in a mastery model, and most competency-based programs have a mastery model, there is no 80- 90-95%, it’s all 100% Everyone has to achieve 100% and so you have to try again and you can resubmit or you can go back. Formative assessment by far in many ways contributes more to learning than summative assessment, and that’s exactly right. The whole point of this is to learn what you know and what you don’t know. At some point someone has to assess you and make sure you know what you’re doing.

Observatory: What other institutions are doing competency-based education besides New Hampshire University?

Kristine C.: There are some other ones. For example Lumina Foundation is really supporting this and also the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I think we’ve had a good environment in The Department of Education, The Federal Department, President Obama brought in a strong culture of innovation around education. He wasn’t able to move as quickly as he probably would like in government, things don’t move enough quickly.

Observatory: On average, how old are your students?

Kristine C.: College for America is mostly older adults, nontraditional. The average age is 35 to 40 years old. We do have some younger students though.

Observatory: Do you see that segment of market growing?

Kristine C.: The segment is huge. In the US alone there are something like 40 million students, 40 million people.

Observatory: Do you think competency-based education it’s going to be a consumer-driven, in other words people are going to ask for it?

Kristine C.: Yes, I think people are going to ask for it. Because they’re going to see advantages. Right now they don’t understand what it is, because it’s new. But I think as it grows they’ll see, I can do this more quickly, I can do it at lower cost, that it will help me save money, employers value it because I have real skills. Or, I can go slower if I need to. I think they’ll see over time and then they’ll start to value it.

College for America web site: Imagery: cbenetwork (2016). Competency-Based Education Network. Retrieved from: steering-committee/kristine-clerkin/ College for America at SNHU (2015, september 18).

College for America at SNHU’s Photos [facebook timeline]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook. com/CollegeForAmerica/photos College for America at SNHU (2015, november 30).